Neither Chris Valaika nor Jim Adduci will be well remembered for their time in Cubs uniforms as active players, but perhaps their tenures on the coaching staff will yield better results. Valaika was recently named assistant hitting coach after previously serving as the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator while Adduci was announced Thursday as the team’s new run production coordinator.
Both men finished their respective MLB careers with the Cubs, Valaika in 2014 and Adduci in 2019, though they combined for just 10 home runs and roughly a .235 average over 730 total MLB plate appearances. Not that their stats should really matter, since the best players aren’t often the most adept when it comes to teaching the game.
“He probably thought I was going to be a coach because I wasn’t that good of a player,” Valaika joked of hitting coach Anthony Iapoce tabbing him for the gig.
Still just 35 years old, Valaika is easily able to relate to players and gain their trust. That allows him to work with them on a personal level beyond just breaking down swing planes and translating the value of expected batting averages that come from a particular combination of launch angle and exit velo into something more actionable.
The Cubs have struggled offensively over the past three seasons in part because they seem to have grown set in their ways. As much as hitters crave routine and repetition, there has to be a willingness to change rather than just continuing along the same path. Once it becomes clear the old way is no longer working, it’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. That was the case for Ian Happ, who was demoted to Triple-A for most of 2019 and went through some remedial work with Valaika.
The switch-hitting outfielder had to move past his anger with the demotion first, after which he was able to correct some of the flaws that came from using his A-hack all the time. Valaika seems to understand what really makes hitters tick and how to appeal to their competitive nature in order to affect change. That’ll be key when working with a Cubs team that ranked in the bottom third of the league in nearly every meaningful offensive category.
As Jordan Bastian pointed out in his piece for MLB.com, the Cubs hit .255 with a .440 slugging percentage against four-seamers in the strike zone. Those respective results ranked 26th and 28th in the majors, which was a huge hurdle for a division winner to overcome and would be a death sentence for a team operating on a reduced budget. But as Valaika explained, it would be a mistake to view 2020 through too narrow a lens.
“There is some good and there is some bad that comes out of it, but I think you look at the whole picture, too,” Valaika explained. “You go through 2019. You see if there’s any trends that have continued or that changed or whatever had been going on. And then, let’s try to address those changes.
“Let’s see why this change maybe is more emotional than anything — with not having fans in the stands and a 60-game sprint and trying to chase numbers or whatever the narrative may be with that stuff. But it’s digging in.”
That’s where Adduci will presumably come in handy, though his role doesn’t necessarily have a firm definition. I’d imagine he’ll operate in a similar capacity to Tommy Hottovy, who served as the Cubs’ run prevention coordinator prior to assuming his current role as pitching coach. Hottovy did a great deal of advanced scouting to uncover matchup-based leverage points for Cubs pitchers, something Adduci will likely be doing for hitters.
As nominal as that might sound on the surface, there were times last year and in previous seasons when the Cubs appeared totally overmatched by even mediocre pitchers. Take the way the Reds’ Tyler Mahle completely bewildered them by exploiting their weaknesses with a different plan of attack than they’d expected. Having someone who can accurately identify existing trends and predict potential new ones in opposing pitchers could be a huge boon to the offense next year and beyond.
I really love learning about the intricacies of hitting, particularly when it comes to those tiny adjustments that yield big results, so I probably find these moves far more interesting than the average fan. That said, everyone will be interested if the addition of these coaches actually pays off.